At 5 p.m. on Thursday, a statewide mask order was put in place by Gov. Kay Ivey. The order states a face covering must be worn in public when in close contact with other people. Specifically, it stipulates that Alabamians must wear a mask when you are within six feet of a person from another household in an indoor space open to the public; a vehicle operated by a transportation service such as Uber; or an outdoor public safe space where 10 or more people are gathered.
The order went into effect at 5 p.m. on Thursday and will remain in place until at least July 31. Ivey said the order, which comes as Alabama has seen an increase in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, supersedes any local regulations.
“We’re almost to the point where our hospital ICUs are overwhelmed,” said Ivey, noting last week 87% of the state ICU beds were full. “Folks, the numbers just do not lie.”
The order carries a penalty of $500 or jail time but Ivey said the focus will be on education as opposed to punishment.
“We are not asking sheriffs or police officers to seek out people not wearing a face mask,” said Ivey. “Our goal is to inform people.”
Local physicians applauded Ivey’s order. Dr. Lonnie Albin, chief medical officer at Highlands Medical Center, said the hospital was in support of the new state masking order.
“With a vaccine still in the developmental stage, the main things we can do to prevent the spread of the virus are in the control of each individual person,” said Albin. “If every person will wear a mask, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently, it will go a long way toward protecting the people of Jackson County.”
Dr. Chris Clayton, of Highlands Family Medicine, said he is hopeful the new order will help people see the importance of wearing a mask and that the number of people in the state with the virus will start to decrease as a result.
“As COVID cases in Jackson County continue to rise, I am particularly concerned about the community spread that we are experiencing,” said Clayton. “Personally, I have seen firsthand what this virus is capable of. I have two small children and other family members in the high risk category that I am trying to protect, as well as my patients and fellow neighbors in Jackson County. If we all do our part, we can help keep each other safer.”
Don Williamson, MD and president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said Alabama continues to set record highs for increasing cases, hospitalizations and now deaths.
“Having a statewide order is a move that gives us the best hope of slowing down the spread of the virus and decreasing the stress on our hospitals and other healthcare providers,” said Williamson.
U.S. Senator Doug Jones praised Ivey’s decision to enact the statewide mask ordinance.
“Gov. Ivey did the right thing by enacting a statewide mask policy,” said Jones. “Unlike her counterparts in other Deep South states, Gov. Ivey is clearly following the advice of health care professionals. “We all want to move past this deadly, disruptive pandemic. By taking the simple steps of wearing a mask and social distancing, we can each do our part to protect lives and livelihoods.”
Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said Ivey’s order is an overstep that infringes upon the property rights of business owners and the ability of individuals to make their own health decisions.
“It imposes a one-size-fits-all, big government requirement on counties that currently have low to moderate infection rates and little need for such a mandate,” said Ainsworth.”
Ainsworth said throughout the coronavirus pandemic he has encouraged everyone to take the steps necessary to protect their own health and the health of others.
“Wearing a face mask and maintaining social distancing are among the best ways to slow the spread of COVID-19, and I have tried to set a public example in those regards,” he said.
Ainsworth said masks should be worn to combat further outbreaks.
“While I admire Gov. Ivey’s leadership and her ongoing efforts, I also believe a statewide order is the wrong way to go about encouraging their use,” said Ainsworth.
There are exceptions to the order. The largest category for exceptions is for “practical necessity” reasons, such as when children are six years old or younger; people with certain medical conditions or disabilities; eating and drinking; and medical and dental procedures.
There are also categories for exceptions for exercise, communicating with an audience and certain necessary job functions. Another category for exceptions includes activities such as voting or religious worship, though wearing a face mask for those is “strongly encouraged,” said Ivey.
The order does not stipulate what kind of face covering is required as long as it covers the nostrils and mouth. It does require businesses to take “reasonable steps” to encourage mask use by employees and customers.